This morning I went for a swim to get a little exercise. While I was swimming I got a chance to do some pondering. My thoughts turned to how we can get the most out of going to church on Sunday. Sometimes, our time in church can seem to do us little good. This is especially true at various stages of life.
This morning I realized how important preparation is to a meaningful church experience. It really can make all the difference in the world. I remember one of my most meaningful church experience many years ago.
I was 17 years old. I was living in Spain as a foreign exchange student for the summer before my senior year of high school. The town I was sent to was tiny. I could easily walk from one end to the other in 10 minutes. I was one of only 2 English speakers in town (the other a man who had lived in the States for some part of his life to whom I was introduced once.) I was the only Mormon. The closest church building and congregation was 30 miles away. My host family didn't have the money or inclination to take me all that way to church.
I went through some serious culture shock and missed everything American. I also didn't speak Spanish well enough to understand or talk to people. The only one I could speak to in English was God and the only book I had in English was my Quad of Scriptures (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price.)
So I read lots of scriptures and I prayed almost constantly. After about 6 weeks there my family, I think in an effort to cheer me up, took me to the nearest city to go find the church. They took me on a Sunday so I could attend services. I had never in my life been 6 weeks without taking the sacrament.
I was living in a home with people who were good people but they didn't have the gift of the Holy Ghost like I did. I felt for the first time what it was like to live in a home where the Spirit wasn't a part of the framework of the home. I realized that if I wanted the Spirit to be there, and I NEEDED the Spirit to be there, I would have to bring it myself. No more relying on my parents for that.
After six weeks of preparing myself, I was finally able to take the sacrament and renew my baptismal covenants and be blessed once again with that feeling of renewal and of sanctifying that we can feel when we worthily and preparedly take the sacrament. It was a sacred experience for me that changed me in profound ways.
Today I asked myself, "how am I preparing myself to get the most out of church tomorrow? Am I prepared to fast? Have I thoughtfully pondered the purpose of my fast? Am I planning today so that tomorrow morning will run more smoothly as I get myself and the family ready for church? Do I have a plan to bring the Spirit into our home tomorrow morning to get us ready for feeling the Spirit at church? Am I hungering after righteousness?"
The reflection this morning has changed the way I am spending my day and it will change how I run my Sunday. I am hopeful that these things will help me make the most out of my time in the church building as well.